Angry Robot

TIFF 09 – Trash Humpers


So much of film reception is expectation. I went in to this Harmony Korine film having heard bad things, and was just saying to Jenn “we may well walk out of this,” when Korine concluded his introductory remarks by saying, basically, if you’re the sort of person who walks out on movies, might as well do it now. It was a challenge (a throwdown, hell no I can’t slow down) that I accepted almost unconsciously, and I realize now it reset my expectations to near zero.

If you are expecting an experimental work of artistic merit, Trash Humpers may well fall short. I don’t think Korine is playing in the big leagues with this one, which is not to say he couldn’t if he tried. However, if you treat this as a bizarre sketch comedy feature, one step weirder than Tim & Eric, say, you may well enjoy it, as I did.

The Trash Humpers are four southerners who wear creepy old-person masks and, well, hump trash. And trees, and walls, and whatever else. They also smash TVs, vandalize things, break into homes, and kill people, all the while muttering, grunting, singing atonally and/or laughing like sick hyenas. There is no plot to speak of, only a collection of scenes featuring the central characters, and other supporting characters drift in and out freely. The film is shot on VHS, meant to capture an archival quality, as if you might find the tape in a dead person’s things and wonder just what the fuck they were up to. As such, the director/cameraman Korine is also one of the Humpers, and shows up more and more toward the end of the film.

One one hand I’m tempted to criticize the film for lacking cohesion, and argue that it could have benefited from a more targeted sense of mystery. You can’t help but project some onto it (was there a falling out among the humpers? Whose baby did the lady humper steal?), but I do not imagine this is a Mulholland Drive-level puzzle waiting to be solved, if by Korine’s own explanation of it afterwards. I’d also propose it might fare better as a YouTube channel rather than a feature. On the other hand, it’s easier to just let the film be what it is, which is a fuckin’ weird 76 minutes of weird shit going down.